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3 Lessons in Marketing Through Empathy From a Business That Serves Homeless And Millionaires Alike

In my latest book about turning ventures into brands, Bigger Than This, I cite a stunning 116 companies over the course of only 200 pages. Some are Fortune 100 conglomerates and consumer brands like Starbucks and Uber, but most are smaller ventures that lead with empathetic stories and created swift consumer admiration. I discovered many of them during my research for the book and am now reaching out to some of those that intrigued me particularly in order to learn more from their unique ways of using their brand story as their key differentiator in the marketplace.

One such venture is SAME Café. Seemingly just another small neighborhood café in Denver, Colorado, SAME Café boasts a big differentiator as it serves healthy food to anyone who pays or does not pay for the fare. More so, it attracts millionaires that dine on delicious, healthy fresh farm-to-table cuisine in a relaxed atmosphere next to someone less fortunate who is experiencing homelessness and stopped in to survive and keep on going through their rough days.

Obviously, there is a lot to be learned from this intriguing venture, so I reached out to Brad Allen Reubendale, the Café’s Executive Director, to see what any business leader and marketer can learn from his unique business model that is so deeply rooted in empathy. Many CEO’s and marketers throw the word empathy around just like other marketing buzzwords, but it’s time to actually listen and learn from a business that is using empathy not as a term, but as their brand’s DNA.

Here are the 3 key lessons that I distilled from my conversation with Brad, and how any business can apply them to turn into a more empathetic brand:

# Understand your brand’s DNA

…then naturally weave it into everything you do 

The Founders of SAME Café were on a mission to ensure homeless not only feel welcome, but feel comfortable eating at their Café, while ensuring the wealthier customers share the same feeling. In order to do so they eliminated prices on their menus. “That DNA has been built through everything we do, down to the fact that we will never put a price on anything in our entire store, because we never want to make someone feel less comfortable, because they can’t afford something. Everything in here is pay what you can or participate in exchange for it. That’s the secret sauce that’s in place. We’re more concerned about making sure that someone experiencing homelessness feels comfortable and educating the wealthy, rather than making the wealthy feel comfortable and inviting the homeless into that,” states Brad.

Whatever your brand’s DNA is, that underlying story, once you perfectly understand and captured it, weave it through everything you do and everything you say; it’s the only way to create a brand rooted in authenticity and empathy.

#Show trust

…and trust will follow 

The Café takes pride in fresh, organic produce that is being delivered by local farmers every morning. But since certified organic is a tough and pricey stamp of approval to obtain for many small family farms, SAME Café let’s their vendors sign a piece of paper with their morning deliveries that states that the produce has been picked that day, that it comes from their local farm and that it has been grown organically. A simple signature as a gesture of trust. No government verification required. The same follows suite inside the café where you can pay what you can, or what you wish.

If your brand showcases trust with vendors and employees, and you extend that same ideology of trust to your customers, you will always be seen as a trustworthy brand. And that is key to any sustainable business, regardless what type of business you are in and if empathy is your key brand driver.

# Whatever business you are in

…have a social mission 

“First of all it’s just good business,” states Reubendale, “In the current climate, and as millennials become the spenders, they also want to see what good they’re doing with it. They’ll pay extra to see that good is happening with the brands that they’re supporting.”

Regardless what business you are in, ensure you dedicate time and budget to an underlying social cause that is directly tied to your offering. SAME Café ties in their product, food, with their cause, feeding homeless. BOMBAS socks has the same cause audience but gives a pair of their socks to homeless shelters for every pair you purchase. Talking the talk and walking the walk is imperative in order to create goodwill, and in return foster a deeper connection between your product/service and the next generation.

Marketing through empathy, as showcased by a café that is pulling off the seemingly impossible: To create a peaceful and engaged community made of the opposite ends of religious beliefs, political viewpoints and financial means in a wholesome and successful manner.

Inspiring thoughts that are implementable in any business as long as the leadership is empathetically aligned with the strategies and is not using the word empathy just to seem more, well, empathetic.


Written by:  Fabian Geyrhalter is the bestselling author of “How To Launch a Brand” and “Bigger Than This.”

Fabian Geyrhalter

Fabian GeyrhalterVerified account

Principal at FINIEN
Fabian Geyrhalter is the bestselling author of “How To Launch a Brand” and “Bigger Than This.”
Fabian Geyrhalter

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